This month we look at a couple of useful publications on the results of modernising Third World farming; and the struggle against arbitrary power.
Editor: Anuradha Vittachi
Seeds of Plenty. Seeds of Want:
Social and Economic Implications of the Green Revolution
by Andrew Pearse
UK: Oxford University Press (hbk) £7.50
Seeds of Faminine:
Ecological Destruction and the Development Dilemma in the West African Sahel
by Richard W. Franke and Barbara H. Chasm
US: Allanheld Osman (hbk) $19.50 (pbk) $7.25
Seeds of Plenty. Seeds of Want by the late Andrew Pearse is a critical primer on the Green Revolution, the international campaign to increase the productivity of peasant agriculture through the introduction of high-yielding seed varieties, fertilizer and irrigation facilities. By drawing on the Green Revolution Studies of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Pearse demonstrates how the new agricultural technology cannot be politically neutral. When introduced into inequitable social systems prevalent in most of the Third World. it benefits the richer farmers and threatens rather than improves the livelihood of the poor majority.
The book is well-documented, but clear and readable. Specific case studies explore the impact of the Green Revolution on different agrarian structures ranging from the communal land system in Sierra Leone to the more stratified systems found in Mexico and the Philippines. Pearse then generalizes from these experiences to pose the central issues of the Green Revolution. He describes how the new seed varieties are often imposed on the peasants and introduced as part of a prescribed ‘package’ of inputs — such as chemical fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation facilities— the supply of which tends to be highly irregular and dependent on the peasant’s access to services. Moreover, the agricultural extension workers who introduce the new technology rarely take into consideration the peasant’s detailed knowledge of his own agricultural microenvironment. But it is the social impact of the new technology which comes under the sharpest attack in the book. Pearse presents convincing evidence to show that the penetration of market relations threatens subsistence agriculture and that those with the most access to land and political power inevitably seize control of the new resources.
Pearse does not attack the technology but rather the strategies behind its introduction. He demonstrated how in Japan, Taiwan and China successful peasant-based strategies have allowed the new technology to benefit the rural population as a whole. The key ingredient. he argues, is political will on the part of the government and a mobilized peasantry.
One important element missing from Pearse’s book is a detailed discussion of the development in the West African Sahel. the scene of a massive famine from 1968-1974. Though drought was the ostensible cause of the famine, the authors trace the roots of the disaster back to the colonial period when heavy taxes and an expanding European market forced the peasants to grow cash crops. The spread of peanut production in particular damaged the soil and upset the delicate balance between farmers and herders, necessary for maintaining the environment. Now, in the aftermath of the famine, international donors and the Sahelian governments have launched the Sahel Development Program, based on many of the same premises as the Green Revolution.
Through first-hand research, the authors describe how many of the new projects may lead to environmental degradation, increased social inequalities and the destruction of the nomads’ way of life. They also point to alternative paths of development and cite examples of local projects, such as the Federation of Soninke Peasants in Senegal. where the Sahelian people themselves are joining together to define their course of development. Like Pearse, they recognize that organized political and social power is the key to the satisfaction of human needs.
(Betsy Hartmann is a freelance writer
currently working on a novel about development)
Pen friends international
A trade union leader, Julio de Pena Valdez, imprisoned by authorities in the Dominican Republic in 1975, was being held naked in an underground cell. Amnesty International learned of his case and organized a letter-writing campaign to plead for his release. Here, in his words, is what happened:
" When the first two hundred letters came the guards gave me bock my clothes. Then the next two hundred letters came and the prison director came to see me. When the next pile of letters arrived, the director got in touch with his superior. The letters kept coming and coining: three thousand of them. The President was informed. The letters still kept arriving and the President called the prison and told them to let toe go."
" After I was released the President called me to his office for a man-to man talk. He said. ‘How is it that a trade union leader like you has so many friends all over the world’ He showed me an enormous box full of letters he had received and, when ne parted he gave them to me. I still have them."
Index on Censorship Vol. 10 No. 6
Writers & Scholars International (£1.85/US$3. 95)
Index on Censorship celebrates its tenth anniversary with a bumper issue full of insights into the minds of the censored and of the censors. A Polish ex-censor says placidly of his profession that it is ‘pretty well feminised. because it is a quiet and calm job’ — adding as an afterthought. ‘on the other hand, there is a big turnover.
The wide-ranging compilation includes an article by Indonesia’s Pramoedya (10,000 copies of his novels were burned in Jakarta as Index went to press); Garcia Marquez on a disappeared Argentinian writer, an excerpt from Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s latest writings; and Kurt Vonnegut putting into perspective the might of the pen against the sword:
'I doubt that literature has ever triumphed over repression. ' But 'autocrats would prefer their subjects to have low opinions of themselves and others and literature has encouraged some repressed people to behave as proudly and honourably and humanely as possible.'
The Human Rights Story
by Jonathan Power
Pergamon Press (hbk) £8.75
Portugal, November, 1960: the dark days of the Salazar dictatorship. Two students in Lisbon raise their glasses in a public toast to freedom - and are sentenced to seven years' imprisonment.
A newspaper report of the incident fired the imagination of a British lawyer, Peter Benenson. Although it was 'an amazing contention that prisoners of conscience could be released by writing letters to governments', Benenson's impulsive appeal to the public in 1961 proved inspirational. Twenty years on, Amnesty International is a prestigious world-wide movement wish a quarter of a million members.
The story of Amnesty’s growth and impact is told by Jonathan Power, an experienced journalist with a knack for explaining political complexities in friendly language. The book includes up-to-the-minute case studies from right-wing regimes in Central and Latin America, and from Communist China and the Soviet Union. Less predictably, Power examines the moral dilemmas facing Amnesty when supporting the rights of Germany’s Baader-Meinhof group: and breaking the ‘unwritten rule of London’s liberal intelligentsia’, he reports on Nyerere’s detainees in Tanzania.
The book is not an official history of Amnesty. Power confesses disarmingly that he is not even a member — yet. It’s a glossy production: the torture photographs seem faintly incongruous laid out so beautifully on rich paper. But the text saves it from the coffee-table: for despite the tone of a polite admirer adopted by Power, steelier perceptions do glint through.